A Taste of Kansai: Food in Osaka and Kyoto

So, you're off to Kyoto for a vacation, and you're swinging by Osaka as well... or if you're saving money on your hotel you're staying in Osaka. You want to try some good local food. What are your options?

Most people will probably recommend taking part in a traditional tea ceremony in Kyoto, or even an entire traditional dinner. These are great experiences, though costly, and can be had at restaurants all over Japan. Instead, be sure to try some of the dishes and foods the area is known for. Really, Kyoto meals are based on the presentation of the dishes and flavors, and not specific dishes.
 Of course, you have to try green tea soft serve ice cream. As far as the taste, it's like what coffee ice cream is to actual coffee - much sweeter and milder, with just enough green tea flavor. Expect to pay about 300 yen, and it's pretty easy to find. You can find green tea flavored candies and chocolates, too. This time of year, there are lots of seasonal choices all over Japan.
 Okonomiyaki is similar to pancakes in its preparation method, I suppose. It includes shredded cabbage and a bunch of other ingredients, usually including meat or seafood, mixed in a batter and cooked. Then, it's topped with okonomiyaki sauce, mayo, aonori, and/or bonito. This is an Osakan specialty, but the version you see above was found at one of the take-out food stands on the approach to Ginkakuji in Kyoto. Okonomiyaki is a little different in different regions (similar to ramen), with Hiroshima style being the other very famous version.
 You can find takoyaki anywhere. Tako means octopus in Japan, and these are balls of batter with pieces of octopus, pickled ginger, and green onion. They're cooked in a special pan that makes them round because otherwise they'd be very similar to okonomiyaki. Takoyaki sauce, mayo, aonori, and/or bonito are again added as toppings. Osaka is considered the home of takoyaki, and there is a takoyaki "museum" at Universal Studios Japan, with a collection of several restaurants selling their own takes on tako. Be warned: takoyaki stays HOT for a long time, and the insides will still be able to burn your tongue long after the outside is bearable!
 My favorite food in Osaka was kushikatsu (known sometimes as kushiage), meat or vegetables battered and deep fried, then dipped in a black sauce (seen in the picture above). Practically any food can be deep fried this way, including steak, chicken, shrimp, asparagus, carrots, potatoes, and even cheese - unbelievably delicious!
 Each stick is fairly small, but costs only about 100-200 yen depending on the ingredient. These are usually enjoyed with a beer or five, and a table of four can easily put away dozens of skewers in one sitting. All-you-can-eat options are available, not healthy but certainly less expensive for hungry folks. Usually all-you-can-eat also means all-you-can-cook.
 Many restaurants in Shinsekai, near Tsutenkaku, serve kushikatsu. Most menus are about the same, though some have special ingredients like strawberries. What you see here is a pair of bananas covered in chocolate sauce instead of the black katsu sauce.
This is the restaurant I chose when I had kushikatsu, and it was quite good. I have no idea how to get you there, but it's quite unique and the Shinsekai area is pretty small.

There's also battera, a block-type sushi based on original primitive sushi. Kitsune udon is a noodle dish with soup (similar to ramen) served with a large piece of fried tofu. And for those of you that like teppanyaki (like Benihana), you can find those restaurants in Osaka. Many people, myself included before coming to Japan, called this style of cooking "hibachi" but hibachi style involves grilling over charcoal or a flame, not on a hot plate.

Osaka is known for its food culture, so finding restaurants isn't difficult. And a trip to Kansai should include sampling some of the best unhealthy food Japan has to offer.

No comments:

Post a Comment